Northeast Times

Veterans Day 2011: Remembering Fishtown's first Vietnam casualty

This is the ac­count of Bob Staranow­icz, a Fishtown nat­ive who served in the Vi­et­nam War and was a close friend of Fishtown’s first Vi­et­nam cas­u­alty, Charles J. Glenn 3rd.

I will nev­er for­get my re­ac­tion to the news re­ceived while hanging out at Al­len and Shack­amax­on streets on that warm Ju­ly even­ing.

The Vi­et­nam War had taken one of our own Fishtown boys, Charlie Glenn. I can’t re­mem­ber every­one who was there that night, but I know we were sit­ting on Be-Bop Bran­nigan’s step when his mom came out and gave us the news. No one knew what to say. We were all stunned. We sat si­lent for a few minutes and stared blankly be­fore we even­tu­ally real­ized that the Vi­et­nam War had come home to us and taken one of our own. This was the first time that any of my friends had died, and the shock was great and very hard to ac­cept.

The war had meant little to us un­til that mo­ment. It had been just a part of the even­ing news that few of us even watched. Charlie would be com­ing home, but he would be in a pine box.

A cor­por­al in the United States Mar­ine Corps, Charles J. Glenn 3rd was killed by sniper fire in Da Nang, Quang Nam Province, Vi­et­nam, on Ju­ly 7, 1967. He was 20 at the time of his death, and lived on Day Street grow­ing up. He was pre­par­ing to an­nounce his en­gage­ment the week he was killed. 

Fishtown was a very pat­ri­ot­ic and tight-knit com­munity when I was young, and it was a great place to grow up. Many of us nev­er saw any­thing out­side of Phil­adelphia un­til we either moved away or joined the mil­it­ary.  But that was OK; everything we needed was right there.

Liv­ing on Rich­mond Street, all one needed to do was walk down to the corner to Shack­amax­on Street and there was a gro­cery store — Ed’s, and a drug store, Black’s.

There was Mc­Crack­en’s, a lunch­eon­ette, and a bar, The 200 Bar. With­in walk­ing dis­tance, there was an­oth­er lunch­eon­ette owned by the Wo­j­ciks at Al­len and Shack­amax­on; there was Kiss­ling’s Sauerkraut (where we would pur­loin cab­bage when the trucks came in) and a gas sta­tion to fill up our bike tires — Wolf­man’s Esso. We would get our East­er kiel­basa at Wyszyn­ski’s, or as we called it, “WW’s”, and our spe­cial cakes at Claus’ bakery.

There was a rag and pa­per fact­ory where we would take our col­lec­ted news­pa­pers and get 10 cents for a hun­dred pounds. There was an­oth­er hangout on Rich­mond Street — Til­lie’s — where we would take soda bottles we had col­lec­ted to get two cents each for them and either buy base­ball cards or use the money for the pin­ball where we would com­pete with Til­lie’s son, Ron­nie.

We would walk to school and church at Im­macu­late Con­cep­tion at Front and Al­len streets. The kids who went to pub­lic school would walk a little fur­ther to Chand­ler School or Penn Treaty High.  We got our shoes from Rose at the OK Shoe Store on Gir­ard Av­en­ue. We got our cheesesteaks at Steak Haven.  We bought our mod­el cars at Harry’s 5 and 10 and we saved our money at the First Pennsylvania Bank.

We would get to­geth­er for pickup base­ball and bas­ket­ball games and go up to the Tip-Top or Het­zel’s play­ground or down to Penn Treaty Park. We would get on a boat at Penn Treaty Park in the sum­mer and spend the day at Soupy Is­land, where we could swim and have lunch. It doesn’t seem like much, but it was how we spent our days, and we were happy.

It was an in­no­cent time, un­til the tragedy of los­ing the first Fishtown res­id­ent — and our close friend — to Vi­et­nam in 1967.

As the war es­cal­ated, many more of us were draf­ted or en­lis­ted in the mil­it­ary. Fishtown­ers did not shirk their duty.  Many more of us went to Vi­et­nam in sub­sequent years. In all, 10 more names were ad­ded to the ori­gin­al Cpl. Charles J. Glenn III Me­mori­al, which was built at Marl­bor­ough and Wildey streets shortly after Charlie was killed. The me­mori­al was erec­ted in re­cord time, all with private dona­tions. It might have been the first, or one of the first, me­mori­als ded­ic­ated to a Vi­et­nam vet­er­an in the United States.

Al­though Charlie was a year older than me and a year ahead of me in school, he was still a friend.  I re­mem­ber him as a kind and caring in­di­vidu­al who al­ways watched out for oth­ers. I can truly say that he was an in­spir­a­tion to me. He has been in my thoughts since his death, but mostly around Me­mori­al Day. 

The one thing that both­ers me the most about Charlie’s death was what happened on the even­ing of his wake at the Grant Fu­ner­al Home on Gir­ard Av­en­ue. I had planned to go with all of my friends, but at the last minute, I sud­denly changed my mind. I was not yet ready to say good-bye to him.  I was a bit un­settled about the whole situ­ation. I wanted my last memor­ies of him as a liv­ing per­son and not in a cas­ket, life­less. That one ac­tion does not take away from the memor­ies, and I am now com­fort­able with the de­cision I made that night.

Charlie’s memory has helped me in some of my writ­ings.  The poem “Away in a Bunker” was writ­ten in his memory dur­ing the Christ­mas sea­son in 1997.

I also wrote a pas­sage in a play — Etch­ings: The Stor­ies Be­hind the Wall — in which a vis­it­or to the Vi­et­nam Vet­er­ans Me­mori­al Wall speaks to Charlie and tells him how much his Mom misses him.

“Chuck” is also one the main char­ac­ters in my nov­el, Chapter One: The Story of Vic Charles. This work is a fic­tion­al ac­count of both my ex­per­i­ences in Vi­et­nam as well as the struggles of ad­just­ing to a nor­mal life while cop­ing with flash­backs to the hor­rors of war.

Each year, there is a ce­re­mony at the me­mori­al at Wildey and Marl­bor­ough streets. For many years, Charlie’s mom, a Gold Star Moth­er who passed away sev­er­al years ago, would at­tend and lay a wreath. The Gold Star Moth­ers Club was formed after Word War I to hon­or Amer­ic­an moth­ers who lost sons in war.

Friends, neigh­bors and fam­ily still join the ser­vice each Me­mori­al Day to pay trib­ute to Charlie and the oth­ers honored on that monu­ment.

The ce­re­mony is a trib­ute to those from Fishtown, Port Rich­mond, and Kens­ing­ton who gave their lives, and to all of those whose names em­blazon the Wall in Wash­ing­ton. The Vi­et­nam War took many fine young river wards men to serve, and failed to re­turn 11 of them. That is a sig­ni­fic­ant num­ber for such a small com­munity. I feel proud to have served and lucky to have re­turned home un­harmed.

For­tu­nately, al­though I served in the north­ern part of the coun­try not far from the “De­mil­it­ar­ized Zone,” or “DMZ,” I was not in harm’s way as of­ten as many oth­ers, though any area in Vi­et­nam could be con­sidered hos­tile.

I re­cently re­turned to Vi­et­nam after al­most 39 years.  The reas­ons were not to bury any ghosts or demons, but to vis­it Kim Long Orphan­age. Kim Long was a place where my unit would take our dirty laun­dry to be washed and pressed.  I was asked to go on a run one Sunday morn­ing, and the chil­dren have cap­tured my heart ever since. Our vis­its were a res­pite from what was go­ing on around us. The faces of the chil­dren that met us on each vis­it could have melted a heart.  It was a safe haven for a few hours, once or twice a month.

When I fi­nally found that the Kim Long Orphan­age (www.st-paul-hue.com) still ex­is­ted in 2008, I was de­term­ined to re­turn.  Find­ing that a nun — Sis­ter Xavi­er — was still there at 91 years of age was an­oth­er reas­on to re­turn.  I was for­tu­nate to share the vis­it with my young­er daugh­ter and was glad to have her sup­port as we traveled from Sai­gon to Hue to Hanoi. I don’t think I could have done it without her.

I have kept in touch with Kim Long since our vis­it and have col­lec­ted funds for the orphan­age.

Vi­et­nam changed many of us who served. It has af­fected each of us in a dif­fer­ent way. For those vali­ant 11 souls on the Glenn Me­mori­al, it changed the lives of those who were close to them forever.  Let us not for­get our 11 “Ho­met­own Her­oes”:

Charles J. Glenn III

Ed Secrest

Joe Kull

Joe Mon­aghan

Harry Seedes III

Ron Briggs

Butch Mc­Cuen

Lawrence Reich­ert

Wil­li­am Ses­sions

John Jol­ley

Al­bert Wall

And let us not for­get the over 58,000 oth­ers who lost their lives while serving their coun­try in the Vi­et­nam War.

Bob Staranow­icz grew up on Rich­mond Street in Fishtown, and served in the U.S. Army from 1968 to 1971. He was de­ployed with the 101st Air­borne Di­vi­sion in Vi­et­nam from Oc­to­ber 1969 to Oc­to­ber 1970.  Cur­rently, he is a freel­ance writer and au­thor liv­ing in Doylestown, Pa. Grow­ing up, he was best known around the neigh­bor­hood as “Stars.” He can be con­tac­ted at bob­star101@gmail.com.

You can see his latest book here. and his blog here.

You can read his poem ‘Away in a Bunker’ by vis­it­ing ht­tp://thewall-usa.com/lit­er­ary/bob­stara.html.

In­form­a­tion about the Kim Long Orphan­age can be found on his blog at ht­tp://www.back­2vi­et­nam.blog­spot.com.

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